Age of Disbelief / National Geographic Magazine

[There is an article in the March 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine that caught my eye. The article, “The Age of Disbelief”, by Joel Achenbach describes several scenarios wherein the common public does not believe what science tells. The part that got me was that about genetically engineered foods. It was false. My letter to the National Geographic editor is below.]
As a holder of a masters degree in aquatic toxicology and a doctorate in genetics, I want to call your attention to what I believe to be a grossly erroneous statement in Joel Achencach’s article, The Age of Disbelief, concerning foods containing genetically modified ingredients. He said, “…. there’s no evidence that it isn’t (safe) and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding”. This statement is blatantly false.
Point one: the genes are NOT altered PRECISELY. Genes are inserted via gene gun, microinjection, or via bacteria or viruses infection. There is no precise insertion but rather random mass insertion into the host genome. There is no measure of damage or alteration to the host genome which can happen in dozens of ways. And there is an abundance of evidence of serious health consequences in laboratory animals in studies conducted outside the United States. Read the literature.
Point two: genetic modification or engineering cannot in any way be compared to traditional breeding. Traditional breeding respects biological barriers that have developed over millions of years. Genetic engineering grossly violates those barriers with unknown consequences. The resulting plant or animal on the molecular level is total different than the original plant or animal. There is a significant difference and there is always the potential of rogue proteins appearing.
Point three: to date the primary reason for genetic modification has been to create plants able to withstand massive doses of glyphosate (most commonly in RoundUp) and live with all vegetation surrounding those plants dying. Now one sees the development of super weeds and the recent determination by the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a “probably human carcinogen”. This is the highest designation possible with lab animals. Pesticide residue follows these crops to the dinner table.
So, Achencach did not do his homework. He swallowed the tale told by big chemical/seed and big processed food corporations. National Geographic is supposed to be a truth teller. In this case, readers were fed a story that puts them at risk.
Regards, Kent Blacklidge PhD

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